Building a community, brick by brick

Everything is awesome at the FIRST LEGO League in WA, who were just named Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year at the 2021 Premier's Science Awards.
Marlo Rae
Marlo Rae
Building a community, brick by brick
Image credit: FLLWA | Curtin University

You’re building and programming a LEGO robot that completes missions on a field. You’re solving real-world problems. You’re competing against others – and you’re 9-16 years old.

Welcome the FIRST LEGO League WA!

FLLWA (for short) is a collaborative project led by Curtin University and supported by community hubs around Western Australia.

It ticks all the boxes for a great STEM engagement. And for Curtin Uni STEM Outreach Co-ordinator Tim Keely, it’s always exciting.

“Last year, the global theme was around doing sport differently. We saw students come up with the ideas around new interactive games, diet solutions, enabling kids with disabilities access to sports; it’s all very inspiring. And their presentations are always carried out very theatrically – costumes, props, sound effects. I love it.”

“It can be wonderfully surprising and unexpected.”

A group of students present their research project as part of the FIRST LEGO League !A' they are dressed on monkey costumes
View Larger
Image credit: FLLWA | Curtin University

Part of Tim’s role is linking students with researchers, local councils and businesses, and teachers to explore relevant local issues. Students then collaborate over 4 months to understand, design, build, test and present their solution.

The FLLWA stems from the FIRST Robotics competition (FIRST standing for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) that was initially brought to Australia by Macquarie University in 2006.

Video credit: Tim Keely
The FLLWA stems from the FIRST Robotics competition (FIRST standing for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) that was initially brought to Australia by Macquarie University in 2006.

Everything is cool when you’re part of a team

There’s 200 active FLLWA teams in WA, from Geraldton to Australind, Dowerin to Kalgoorlie, metro Perth to Tjuntjuntjara lands.

Two female students in white t-shirts work together to build a LEGO robot
View Larger

Students work collaboratively to solve problems; cheered on by their teammates

Image credit: FLLWA | Curtin University
Students work collaboratively to solve problems; cheered on by their teammates

Tim says it’s awesome to be part of a community – alongside volunteers, coaches, teachers, parents and local businesses – where people are so positive about what they’re doing.

In Forrestfield and High Wycombe, for example, Bendigo Bank has supported local schools to take part, acknowledging the importance of this type of rich engagement in the community.

Many local councils have also mentored teams to work on real-life problems – like in Kalamunda, where students designed a Lesmurdie stormwater drain system with clear viewing panels built in – a simple solution to a much bigger maintenance problem.

“I’m honoured to be involved,” says Tim. “It’s kind of like a tornado – the more people it scoops up, the more capacity and potential we have to do really good things.”

Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream

This week, the FIRST LEGO League of WA took home the Chevron Science Engagement Initiative of the Year, in the 2021 Premier’s Science Awards.

The idea that you can have a competition that is entirely* collaborative and supportive may seem unlikely, but Tim says the vibe is extremely positive.

(*He concedes there is the occasional disagreement, usually over device chargers.)

A group of five students look down at a robot they are making as part of the FIRST LEGO League WA
View Larger

A student team, working in harmony

Image credit: FLLWA | Curtin University
A student team, working in harmony

“I’m amazed by the things the students get their robots to do,” he says. “The level to which kids can engage with this technology still surprises me. It’s a true joy to be able to guide teams through each year.”

Everything is better when we stick together

Tim believes the competition continues to grow “because we have communities who rejoice in finding great and amazing solutions through STEM”.

These communities have nurtured and grown the FLLWA, which has seen about 60,000 students, teachers, family members and local community members involved since its establishment in 2013.

And tellingly, Tim sees many participants come back as volunteers, judges, referees and mentors for the younger teams. Some will even be at this weekend’s Western Australian Robotics Playoffs (WARP) (think BIG robots).

“So engagement is not just limited to that little bit of FIRST LEGO League – it keeps on going up to a higher level. Now we’ve got people who will graduate uni, and they’re engineers, and they still come back and involved,” he says.

Sold? If you’re keen to get involved check out the FLLWA webpage or keep your eyes peeled for a free intro day for teachers and coaches. Or you could volunteer and learn about the competition that way.

Marlo Rae
About the author
Marlo Rae
View articles


We've got chemistry, let's take it to the next level!

Get the latest WA science news delivered to your inbox, every fortnight.


Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.


You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.


Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.


All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.


For more information about using our content, email us:

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy